The morning after she wakes up on that cold bench, Sakura sorts through her brain for everything she knows about wishes and hopes and dreams and desires. After all, her forehead isn't the size of Chouji-with-a-gland-problem for no reason – Haruno Sakura is smart. She's smart and willing and bright and witty and everything that everyone thinks she could be if she wasn't wasting her time chasing after that silly Sasuke-kun.
In the ninja world, you are taught that wishes and hopes and dreams and desires are for those doomed to failure. Hard work plus strategy plus precision plus chakra equals win.
There is no hope, there are no dreams.
But in Sakura's world, her parents are not shinobi. They believe in hope, and they believe in fate, and they believe in reading fairytales to their children before bedtime, rather than mission scrolls and that silly "Five Million and Six Rules and Codes to Being a Good Ninja" book (or something like that anyway).
Mr. and Mrs. Haruno loved fairytales when Sakura was younger. They would read them to her every night, religiously, from age three to age ten, until one day their daughter went to the academy and suddenly grew up, smitten by some "Uchiha Sasuke" child who had made her split away from Ino and cry and smile at the same time.
Sakura is a ninja. She knows she is a ninja, and she knows that she'll work hard to become an even better ninja. She knows every ninja code by memory, and yes, the thought that wishes and hopes and dreams and desires do not exist is engraved in her heart.
But right now, Sakura needs hope. She needs wishes and dreams and desires to exist. Because if they don't, she might break.
Because love doesn't seem to exist without them.
Maybe she'll find a genie in an enchanted lamp.
Or maybe she could lose a glass slipper, and everything will be alright again.
Perhaps the key to hope is to give up her voice to a slimy urchin.
Or maybe she has to dress up as a man and fight to defend someone.
But genies do not exist in Konoha and the Ninja World,
and Sakura doesn't own glass slippers (will ninja sandals work?).
There aren't any talking octopus-ladies sitting around,
and she's already fighting to defend people.
No, these solutions worked for Aladdin and Cinderella and Ariel and Mulan, but they won't work for Sakura.
There is a myth that says if you fold one thousand paper cranes, your wish will come true. One thousand is a lot, Sakura realizes, but one thousand is a tiny, miniscule number when you compare it to happiness and love.
Naruto is gone, and Ino is working in the flower shop. Kakashi-sensei has vanished, away on other missions, because raising a healthy team is the second mission he's failed in his life. Sakura is just there, being as useless as her namesake.
She might not be terribly strong, or terribly intelligent, or terribly talented, but Sakura has one thing most ninjas lost a long time ago – she has hope.
She doesn't even feel the occasional paper cuts.
Naruto comes back empty-handed, and yes it breaks her heart, but Sakura doesn't care, because she knows she'll get stronger and better and greater, so one day she and Naruto can try to bring Sasuke back again and again and again and again until they finally succeed.
It's okay, she tells Naruto, even though she's crying and he's frowning and nothing is okay. We'll get 'im next time, I know we will.
She treats him to an afternoon of ramen and stories, and eventually he joins in, even though they both dance carefully around the subject of Sasuke.
They train together.
Sakura doesn't understand why she ever thought Naruto was stupid and unbearable, because the truth is; she loves him like she would love the brother she never had.
She smiles even as she's dodging the kunai and shuriken Naruto is throwing at her with full force, because she wants to get better with Naruto. Naruto is her rock, and if those cruel things called Loss and Betrayal take him too, she might really break this time.
They might avoid saying his name, but Sasuke is still their glue.
It's the thought of pursuing Sasuke that keeps the NaruSaku pair together. So they train and eat and laugh and cry with each other, because all of their hard work and dedication is for Sasuke.
It is all for Sasuke.
Life plays a cruel joke on her when Jiraiya takes Naruto away.
Naruto, her Naruto.
The silly Naruto with the beautiful smile and hopeful eyes and obnoxious laugh and horrifying ramen-vacuuming abilities. Uzumaki Naruto, Number One Ninja Brat.
Her Naruto. Her rock, her supporter, her best friend, her lean-on-me-everything-is-alright-er.
She doesn't know how long it will be until she sees him again, and Sakura is afraid that she'll forget the shade of yellow his hair is, or how blue his eyes are, or what his voice sounds like. Sakura doesn't want to forget him. She doesn't want him to leave.
But he's going to get stronger, Sakura reminds herself, something you should really be doing too.
She smiles when she sees them off at the gate, waving, even though her insides feel like they're crumbling and cracking and falling completely apart.
She asks Tsunade to train her.
She really doesn't know what came over her. Tsunade is their Hokage, their figurehead. She's the strongest ninja in the village, and she's a Sannin for Christ's sake. Why on earth would Tsunade ever waste her time training a lowly little genin like Sakura? Useless little Haruno Sakura who doesn't even have a team she can call family anymore.
But she says yes.
You have talent and brains, Tsunade says to her. I can see it in you, and I know you won't be a waste of my time.
Then she sends her off with a pile of papers to deliver to some 'Genma' person and gives her a medical text that rivals the size of her forehead and tells her to start reading.
For the first time since Naruto left, Sakura smiles and feels the tiny butterfly of hope fluttering within her once more.
She's strong. God, can you believe it?
Sakura, little Sakura is strong. She has Tsunade's superhuman strength and medical knowledge, and God if you could see her chakra control maybe Kakashi-sensei would smile behind his mask at her for a change and realize that she isn't just a third wheel or a silly little girl.
She's a ninja.
She's a ninja.
She's a ninja.
She swears she sees Kakashi's lips curve behind his black mask when he watches her pass the Chuunin Exam. Tsunade laughing and smiling and hugging and she's pleased with how well she's done.
Her spirit soars.
When Naruto comes home, Sakura's heart starts to beat again.
He's different. He's taller than her, and he's muscled and tan. He's ditched that horrible orange jumpsuit and he's added some black. He's not the stupid little trouble-maker anymore. He's stronger. He has unimaginable chakra reservoirs.
He's a ninja.
He's a ninja.
He's a ninja.
Sakura gives him one of her prized paper cranes and tells him, Don't forget our dream.
His smile, so white and beautiful and shiny and filled with hope, breaks her heart, but it mends it slowly, one artery at a time.
After months and months of training and begging, Tsunade gives in.
You can go to Sound and look for the runaway, but only if you're careful, she tells Sakura and Naruto reluctantly as she paints messy symbols onto a mission scroll. If there's any danger, summon something, run away, I don't care – just come back in one piece.
As she packs her bag, Sakura puts in the essentials and the not-so-essentials. She brings her sleeping bag and she brings a washcloth and a toothbrush, but she's still a silly girl at heart, so she stuffs away a picture of Team 7 from so, so long ago into the corner of her bag and yes, she does have a tube of mascara in her toiletries bag.
She can barely sleep, but she forces herself to anyway. She'll need the strength, and solider pills will only last her so long.
She goes to the meeting place half an hour early, and Naruto is already there, shaking with anticipation.
Sound Country is a lot further away than people would expect.
The trek across the nation takes her and Naruto almost a month, but it's worth it, because every step closer she gets to Oto, the bigger the bubble of hope she has floating on the stream she calls her heart gets. She feels Sasuke getting closer and closer, and she knows there's no better force in the world to combat her and Naruto's teamwork and shared power than Uchiha Sasuke.
They train when they rest. They endurance train while they travel. They wean themselves off soldier pills and come up with strategies that might be able to help them when they finally face him.
Sound is quiet, eerie, and monochromatic.
Everything seems to be gray, and every lair is void of the runaway Uchiha.
But still, Naruto and Sakura push on. They search relentlessly and they search with crying eyes and bleeding souls, even though everything looks the same among all of the grey of Oto.
Everything is greyscaled and silent and monotonous and dead.
After two weeks of looking at shades of black and white, the red of Uchiha Sasuke's sharingan is ever so delightful.
She's afraid that they won't make it, but she's afraid that he won't make it either at the same time.
Naruto has his rasengan and Sakura has her superstrength, but Sasuke has the sharingan and his back-up group of friends. Team Hawk, a frightening mosaic of skill and power beyond Konoha's wildest dreams.
It hurts Sakura to see how much more Sasuke fits in with Hawk rather than 7, and she knows Naruto feels the same way. They push themselves and flaunt their power and fight with heart and yearning rather than rage and chakra.
The chidori's crackle against the rasengan's whir is deafening.
I can't guarantee myself that you'll read this letter, or you'll even open the package I'm sending with it, but it's worth a try, right?
I haven't spoken to you yet even though you've been back for a week already, and I know it'd be total shit to tell you that I've been busy, because even though I have been, the old me would've made room for you in a heartbeat.
Naruto has probably told you already why he wanted to bring you back so badly. You were his teammate, his brother, his best friend. I don't think you'll ever understand how badly he wanted to get you back when you first left – or even three years after you left –, or how badly you hurt him.
Sasuke, you were my teammate too. I thought I loved you, and you were one of the greatest people in the world. I "loved you" – I should've been happy for you when you left, because you were going to find power from that creeper Orochimaru, and you were going to accomplish the biggest dream of your life with that power. You were getting closer to your life's wish, and if I loved you, I would've accepted it.
I don't know if I truly loved you, but I wanted to bring you back anyway, because I thought that one day you would come back, and one day you'd smile, and one day, maybe, just maybe, we'd fall in love like we were supposed to.
The morning I woke up on the bench, I tried to think of ways that would bring you back. I was weak, I was confused, and I was crying, so I resorted to thinking of fairytales and wished and hopes and dreams and desires – things that don't exist in the ninja world, but exist in my world.
In this box, there are one thousand paper cranes, because when you're thirteen and heartbroken, you rely on myths and wishes to fulfill your hopes.
My wish was to bring you back to Konoha.
You can think that this was just some stupid legend stupid Sakura decided to follow, and to some extent I agree. You didn't come back because I folded a bunch of birds. You're back because Naruto and I forced you to return.
But you're back, Sasuke, and I'm giving you these thousand cranes since my wish has been granted, and to be honest, it still hurts to look at them.
Giving away these cranes seem like a good form of closure, because finally, finally this chapter of my life is done. It's over. You're back, Naruto's smiling again, and maybe this time around Kakashi-sensei won't feel like that much of a failure.
I don't know where we're going to go from here. Maybe you're furious, and maybe I'm not ready, but I think we should start over on a fresh new page, because I know a new story is going to begin.
Um, this didn't quite come out like I thought it would. Nonetheless, I'm still pretty pleased with how this it turned out.